I know on Mondays I usually post reader questions and try to answer them, and I do have a backlog of about 50. But as I’ve been glancing through so many of them I’ve noticed a commonality:
In many marriages, the roots of the current crisis were evident before the couple was married, but they got married anyway.
And I find myself thinking, as I read these questions: I wish I could have spoken to these women before they got married. I wish I could have warned them.
I’ve read quite a few Christian books on finding a mate recently; the longer I’ve done marriage ministry, the more I feel that we have to spend more time talking to young people about how to choose a mate, so we can spend less time trying to repair marriages in crisis.
Recently I read a book that is totally unique, and I want to share some insights with you–because seriously, this is the best dating advice ever.
It’s found in Andy Stanley’s The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating, which is unlike any other book on dating I’ve ever read: it’s addressed to young people whose pasts are not pristine. In fact, their presents aren’t even pristine. They’re desperately searching for love, often in the wrong places. They may go to church (or they may not), but they spend their Saturday nights at parties, they keep dating losers, and they wonder how to stop.
In short, his book is directed at so many of my letter writers.
Many books on dating for Christians are directed at practising Christians–those who are walking with Jesus and who truly want to live out His commands for marriage and purity. But what about those who have messed up? What about those who are confused? What about those who are just plain heartbroken and who are searching for someone to love?
People want to be loved. We want to have someone who will know us completely and still want to be with us. But in our yearning for that relationship, we often overlook warning signs. We want the fairytale so badly that we convince ourselves this really is Prince Charming–over and over again, heartbreak after heartbreak.
I love the fact that with Andy there’s no judgment. There’s no: “you’ve really blown it and God wants you to be pure.” Instead, he approaches heartache like a doctor approaches a medical problem. He lays out a convincing case as to why so many people are in these cycles of heartbreak, and then he shows you how to get out of them.
I’m going to get to his one big piece of the best dating advice ever in a minute. But I want to lay the groundwork first. So here are just a few principles to remember:
You are sexually compatible with far more people than you are relationally compatible with.
Many people start a relationship and quickly fall into bed, where it’s often amazing. They think this heady feeling means that they’ve found “the one”. But that’s not necessarily true–and, in fact, most people’s track records show that it isn’t true at all.
Sexual involvement releases hormones that cause us to bond. All we see is the attraction, and then all the red flags fall by the wayside.
Then what happens? There’s a slow fade. Often a couple loses interest in sex together–which Andy says is almost always a manifestation of something else. So what’s the solution? In all too many cases, they get pregnant! A baby will renew their feelings for each other, right?
Wrong. We’re sexually compatible with way more people than we’re relationally compatible with–likely by a factor of a million to one. So just because you enjoy being in bed with someone does not make them right for you. Really, they’re just one among millions.
Commitment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The past is a far better predictor of how someone will behave in the future than their decision to commit to you right now.
I was watching The Rewrite recently, a movie that Netflix thought I’d love but that I turned off within 15 minutes. Hugh Grant plays a playboy who is only interested in using women. He’s teaching writing at college, where he meets Marisa Tomei, a single mom who is lovely and vulnerable.
I turned it off because I knew where the movie was going. Here’s this absolute lout who has never behaved morally in his life, but love with this sweet woman would change him.
How many women believe that–that they can change their husbands? Here’s what Andy says:
I’m all for forgiveness and grace. And I believe that people change. But I don’t believe that people change people. And I don’t believe that people change forpeople. People change themselves. People change themselves when they get sick and tired of themselves, when the pain of staying the same is too great to bear or there’s a goal so enticing that it draws them away from what and who they used to be.
How many times have you heard someone with stars in their eyes rationalize something like, “He has a job interview tomorrow”, or “He feels so badly about the porn use”, or “He hasn’t had a drink in two weeks.”
It’s not that these people can’t change; it’s that, for relationship success, the change must happen independently, between them and God, and it must be proven before any commitment is made.
Just because they promise the moon doesn’t mean they’ll actually deliver it. Look at their track record.
So how do you make better choices? How do you avoid all this heartache and ending up with someone who isn’t good for you?
Ready for it? Here’s that best dating advice ever:
Become the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.
Stop looking for someone great, and become someone great.
Andy tells the story of a young woman who had made some bad choices. She had grown up in a Christian home, but she now spent most of her after-work life in bars. She had had a string of bad relationships. She was doing well professionally, but her personal life was a mess, riddled with some addictions that she was trying to defeat.
One Sunday she decided to give her church’s college & careers group a try. And she met this most amazing man. He was caring. He had a good job (!). He was confident and smart. And very good looking.
She was over at her parents’ house the next weekend and was gushing over this guy. “This is the one I want to marry!”
And then her mom turned to her and said something harsh. “Honey, a man like that would not choose you.”
But she realized it was true. Why is it that we only attract a bad sort of person–the kind with bad habits who treats us badly? Maybe it’s because WE are not the kind of person the kind of person we want wants.
That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t a nice person or even that she wasn’t a good person. It was just that she had made life choices, and was continuing to make life choices, that this guy wouldn’t make. She may have had a lovely heart, but what he was looking for was the total package: someone who knew God; who chose well; who wasn’t dragged down by friends; who chose in their leisure to do good and meaningful things, rather than just drinking. That’s what she found attractive about him–he was unlike anyone she knew. But maybe that was the problem: she was hanging out with people who dragged her down. Why didn’t she know any good guys? Because she wasn’t attracting them because she wasn’t acting like the kind of woman a guy like that would want.
Finding the right person starts with figuring out what you want–and then becoming a better version of you.
Andy explains how that means running after God, and he even explains how that means deciding not to have sex while you’re dating. But he doesn’t explain that until chapter 8. He builds his argument slowly, convincingly, and with deep compassion for all the wounded and heartbroken people who just want someone to love them. And who, in the process, have followed the world’s message about love & sex & dating and have found nothing but pain and disappointment and disillusionment.
He’s brutally honest about pornography and erotica. He diagnoses why so many modern relationships fail. And then he points people to another way of finding real love: By becoming the kind of person the kind of person you want wants. And in the process you’ll really find yourself. You won’t feel so alone. You’ll start knowing God. You’ll approach dating from a position of strength and confidence, not desperation. You’ll know that keeping God at the center helps you to choose someone who also keeps God at the center.
And maybe, just maybe, you will find that love you so desperately want.
I loved the book, and I think it’s wonderful for anyone, Christian or not, who is in this seemingly endless cycle of heartache. It’s extremely seeker friendly, and it builds such a great case. It’s not the best book for someone who is already committed to doing things God’s way and is already living that out–I’ll talk about books like that later. But let’s face it: the endless cycle of heartache is actually the majority of people in their late teens and early twenties now. And it’s so great to read a book so filled with truth, and yet so accessible.
By Sheila Wray Gregoire